Overhead of a cooking spoon resting in a skillet of barley and asparagus.

You’ll love using pearl barley in risotto! It’s easy to prepare and makes a filling dish. Barley has a slightly nutty flavor that works well in risotto. Top it with spring veggies and a squeeze of lemon juice for a tasty side dish or dinner. 

And bonus, this is a one-pot meal! You’ll love the easy clean-up. After a long day, it’s super convenient to only wash one pot after dinner. In fact, the kids could even help. *wink*

Grains and veggies served in a white bowl.

Isn’t risotto a hard dish to cook?

Risotto gets a bad rap for the simmering time—it needs to cook for 25 minutes, and traditional risotto needs to be stirred a lot. However, this barley risotto is mostly a hands-off dish! For this recipe, once you set the skillet to simmer, you can prep other dishes or set the table. Or, if you prefer, try using the Instant Pot instructions below.

Why should I make barley risotto instead of using rice?

Pearl barley is packed with wholesome nutrients, providing a hearty base for many dishes. We love to use it in creamy risotto, where barley’s slightly chewy texture shines nicely.

What ingredients do I need for Risotto with Pearl Barley?

  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Pearl barley
  • Chicken broth. Use vegetable broth for a vegetarian risotto.
  • Lemon juice
  • Italian seasoning
  • Dried thyme
  • Fresh parsley
  • Parmesan cheese 
Overhead of asparagus risotto in a skillet with a cooking spoon.

Why is it important to use pearl barley for risotto and not the other kind—hulled barley?

Pearl barley has had some or all of the outer bran layer removed during processing, so it cooks quicker. It also has a smoother texture after cooking, which is better for risotto. 

Hulled barley has been minimally processed to leave behind some of the outer layer—therefore, it’s darker in color than pearl barley and has a chewier cooked texture. It also takes much longer to cook, which isn’t what we’re going for in a weeknight family dinner!

How do I make barley risotto with asparagus?

Collage of four simple steps to make barley risotto with asparagus. A text overlay reads, "How to Make Barley Risotto."
  1. Cook the garlic, onions, and asparagus. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Set pearl barley and chicken broth to boil. Turn the heat down to simmer for 25 minutes.
  3. Add the vegetables back in. 
  4. Mix everything together, top with seasonings, and serve!

Protip: Keep it creamy!

If your risotto runs dry before cooking time is up, just add 1/4 cup of liquid to the pan. This will keep the risotto creamy.

How will I know (for sure) that the barley risotto is done cooking? 

If you’re cooking pearl barley for the first time, you may not be sure when it’s done. If the barley is ready, it will check off every item on this list:

  1. Risotto has simmered on low heat for 25 minutes.
  2. Barley pearls are soft but still slightly chewy.
  3. Barley pearls have doubled in size.
Overhead of barley risotto served in a bowl alongside a skillet of more risotto.

Can I cook this barley risotto in the Instant Pot?

Of course! Here’s how:

  1. Use the sauté function to cook the garlic, onions, and asparagus. If your pressure cooker doesn’t have this option, you can just use a skillet. Set the vegetables aside.
  2. Add pearl barley and chicken broth to the Instant Pot. Seal up the pressure cooker and set it to high pressure for 20 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes, then turn the pressure valve.

Open up Instant Pot and carefully stir in veggies, seasonings, and cheese.

How well does this vegetarian barley risotto reheat?

Barley Risotto with Asparagus makes delicious leftovers! The seasonings really meld into the risotto. Refrigerate in a well-sealed container for up to a week.

To reheat, move the risotto to a microwave-safe dish. Pour in a couple tablespoons of water or broth, stirring to incorporate. Heat for about 1-3 minutes in the microwave. You can also reheat in a skillet on the stovetop.

A spoon scoops grains and veggies from a skillet.

Can I freeze barley risotto?

Yes! Wait for the risotto to cool to room temperature, then store in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. 

To defrost, move the container to the fridge to thaw—this could take up to 24 hours. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.

What can I serve with barley risotto?

This creamy, hearty dish is perfect with a salad or sauteéd vegetables. Try Herbed Cucumber Tomato Salad for a refreshing and bright side dish or Quick And Easy Sautéed Zucchini (topped with seasonings of your choice). Both have veggies that complement the flavors of the risotto.

Looking for more one-pan meals?

Check out some of our favorites!

Overhead of a cooking spoon resting in a skillet of barley and asparagus.

Barley Risotto with Asparagus

Yield: 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

You’ll love Barley Risotto with Asparagus for a simple meal that satisfies! With fresh asparagus and a sprinkle of Parmesan, this easy risotto dish is full of flavor.


  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, chopped into 2” long pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups pearl barley
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water), plus up to one cup more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving


  1. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil into a large skillet or saucepan. Heat the skillet to high heat.
  2. As soon as oil starts sizzling, turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic and onion.
  3. Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add asparagus to the pan and drizzle the ingredients with another teaspoon of oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir everything together and top the skillet with a lid (so the asparagus cooks faster). Let asparagus cook for 3-5 minutes, or until it is tender but still firm.
  6. Move the entire contents of the pan to a bowl to save for later.
  7. Carefully pour 6 cups of chicken broth into the hot skillet.
  8. Stir the barley into the broth.
  9. Bring the broth and barley to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  10. Let the barley simmer for 25 minutes, or until it is soft but still al dente. (It will also have doubled in size). Stir barley occasionally as it cooks.
  11. Add the asparagus, onion, and garlic back into the skillet. Keep the heat on low and stir everything together.
  12. Pour in the lemon juice and sprinkle in the seasonings. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish off with the Parmesan cheese.
  13. Stir everything gently until combined and take the skillet off the heat. The risotto is ready to be enjoyed! Scoop into bowls and serve with additional shredded Parmesan for topping.


  • Fresh minced garlic or jarred garlic are both great options.
  • You can use frozen, diced onion as a shortcut.
  • We recommend using chicken or vegetable broth for flavor, but you can also use water.
  • Dried parsley can also be used here, but fresh does add a depth of flavor.
  • If the liquid in the pan dries up before the barley is done cooking, just add another 1/4 cup of broth or water.
  • To make this risotto in the Instant Pot, use the sauté function to cook the garlic, onions, and asparagus. Set the veggies aside, and add the barley and broth to the Instant Pot. Seal and set to High pressure for 20 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for five minutes, then turn the pressure valve. Carefully stir in the veggies, seasonings, and Parmesan.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 174Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 1554mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 5gSugar: 2gProtein: 5g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

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